By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Elsewhere in this issue, you will find the mammoth guide to the third annual Westword Music Awards Showcase, featuring profiles of all 65 of the event's nominees. Included in this roster is an update about the Samples, who are among the five aspirants in the Favorite Major Label Act category; in it, lead singer and frontman Sean Kelly discusses Transmissions From the Sea of Tranquility, a live recording that's set for a September 29 release on Boulder's W.A.R.? imprint. But Kelly had plenty of other things to say as well, going on the record in greater detail than ever before about the group's split with keyboardist Al Laughlin and drummer Jeep MacNichol (recounted in the March 27 Feedback column), its departure from MCA Records and the drug-related rumors that have dogged the band for years.
According to Kelly, the problems between the Samples and MCA had everything to do with subsequent tension in the band. "By the time our album [Outpost, which hit stores last year] was finished, the regime that had signed us had almost all been let go," he says. "And the second regime wanted to clear the decks. But they didn't realize what a good contract we had negotiated. They said, 'We're not making any singles with the Samples. We've given up. We're not even trying.' And we said, 'You don't know who you're dealing with here.'"
Indeed, the Samples have proven over the years that they can't be pushed around. Before their association with MCA, they had been on the roster of another major label, Arista, but left the company after one disc (1990's The Samples) because the members were dissatisfied with the firm's methods. The players subsequently spurred the creation of W.A.R.?, which has become a grassroots success story. In other words, they weren't about to sit back quietly and let MCA use passive-aggressive techniques to pound them into submission. Lawyers representing the band filed what Kelly cryptically refers to as "a mild lawsuit, which we won." Hence, the Samples were released from a contractual obligation to provide MCA with another recording, freeing them to return to W.A.R.?
Unfortunately, such battles took a toll on the combo. "One of Jeep's biggest reasons for leaving was because MCA didn't want to go with the song 'Did You Ever Look So Nice' as the second single from Outpost," Kelly notes. "He also got married around that time, but the whole argument about the single was the catalyst for the downward spiral. It was very harmful, and he just decided that he didn't want to do it anymore."
Complicating matters were Laughlin's personal problems. Because of his addiction to heroin, the keyboardist had taken an extended hiatus from the band beginning in late 1995; during his time away, he was arrested in Boulder for burglarizing an apartment (Feedback, September 19, 1996). When the MCA matter came to a head, Laughlin was again part of the fold and reportedly was clean. But Kelly concedes that Laughlin's past foibles continued to haunt the group: "I think we might have gotten a sense of ourselves from Al, which didn't give us a chance to look at ourselves. I always wanted Al to get better, but because we had to focus so much on that, it took attention away from certain other areas. We neglected talking to each other--and I never got a sense of the destructiveness of that until it was too late."
Equally distressing to Kelly was the assumption on the part of many members of the local music community that if Laughlin was a junkie, the rest of the Samples must be, too. "It's a little town, with millions of rumors," he says. "But I've never done heroin. In fact, I was the one who was behind stripping it out of the band. But I still hear people talking about it, and that tag is very hurtful. If they took a step back and looked at how prolific I am, they'd realize the truth. Al had a lot of problems, but I want to clear myself of all of that. The rest of us were always fine.
"I don't want to burn Al up over this. He's dealing with the monkey on his back, and I hope everything works out for him. But we've lost a lot of good friends through heroin, and to me, that's sad. I don't know what hole people have to fill that's so deep they think they need that. Maybe it's something that none of us can comprehend. I guess it just reflects the sadness in our times."
In addition, Kelly adamantly denies that the atmosphere surrounding the band was conducive to drug abuse. He acknowledges that he once witnessed someone shooting up "because I wanted to try and understand it a little better. And it was the sickest thing I've ever seen in my life." But with this exception, he insists that individuals in the band's milieu who were part of the narcotics scene "hid what they were doing from me, because I think they saw me as a father figure. Besides, that stuff is dark. It hides well--and it was well-hidden from me. One day I woke up and found a lot of people around me in that vibe, and I was like, 'What the hell is this?'"